Cowboys’ war chest to bring back Holmes
North Queensland bosses have declared they will not return to the club's dark ages and have set aside funds in the salary cap ready to lure Valentine Holmes from the NFL to spark a Cowboys revival next season.
On the eve of Thursday night's Queensland derby, Cowboys football operations chief Peter Parr hit back at suggestions North Queensland are a club in decline following the retirement of champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston.
The 13th-placed Cowboys are set to miss the finals for the second consecutive year and have come under fire for their recruitment-and-retention after losing Kalyn Ponga, Brandon Smith and Viliame Kikau in the last three years.
Michael Morgan was tipped to lead a Cowboys finals charge this season in the post-Thurston era but instead North Queensland have been also-rans, languishing in the bottom four entering the Broncos derby.
Parr has been a pivotal figure in the reconstruction of the Cowboys.
An 18-year employee, he joined the club in 2001 after North Queensland won a third wooden spoon.
It was Parr who pulled off a poaching raid on Canterbury whiz-kid Thurston, whose arrival in Townsville in 2005 transformed the Cowboys into a premiership powerhouse.
Now, one year into Thurston's retirement, head-of-football Parr vowed the Cowboys will not tolerate mediocrity and has challenged the playing group to finish the season strongly - starting against Brisbane.
"There is time to resurrect something," Parr said.
"If we implode over the next five weeks then it goes from a disappointing season to seriously disappointing.
"Challenging and disappointing would be the two words I would use to sum up this year, but no one is giving up here.
"I am loathe to reflect too much on the season until it is actually finished, but there is still a challenge for the players to finish off the season as well as they possibly can.
"Nobody at this club wants to return to the dark days and I'm confident that won't happen.
"In some of our early years, we simply weren't competitive and I don't believe that has been our club this season.
"We are a long way from the doldrums. The closeness of the competition these days shows clubs can rebuild quickly.
"We will be moving into a new stadium next year, we have our Centre of Excellence on the horizon. We're not sitting here thinking our current position means we will be stuck here long term."
Parr believes Thurston's retirement is only one factor in North Queensland's free fall this season.
The club has suffered another horrendous injury toll, including freak setbacks with Te Maire Martin, who suffered a brain bleed, and Justin O'Neill, who was the Cowboys' leading tryscorer when he sustained a life-threatening ruptured spleen against Canberra in May.
Ben Barba, the club's star off-season recruit tipped to inject attacking flair at fullback, did not play a single minute after being sacked in pre-season for an off-field incident within a month of his arrival.
"Losing 'JT' was always going to be a factor but I felt we were well covered in that area," Parr said.
"We've had some challenges around injuries no doubt and some of them have been long-term ones.
"In some games this year, we've had 40 per cent of our players available, so our roster has taken a hit. But in saying that, we've been in a position to win a number of games and we haven't been able to do that.
"Against Souths (three weeks ago), we led with eight minutes to go and somehow got beaten by 12.
"Mentally, we haven't had the ability to play the full 80 minutes in a number of games."
The Cowboys have been pilloried for losing three of the code's brightest talents.
Kikau has proved a back-row sensation at Penrith, Smith is flourishing at the Storm, and Ponga has become a Queensland Origin star at Newcastle.
"We have to cop the criticism over losing those guys," Parr said. "It's difficult, you can't keep everyone with the salary cap.
"In 2015, 2016 and 2017, we made two grand finals and a preliminary final. Around that time, we had to make decisions on our roster and those three guys felt they were roadblocked for whatever reason.
"We felt we had given them career paths but their agents told us they felt otherwise.
"They didn't leave the Cowboys as seasoned players. We tried to keep them all. We tabled what we felt were healthy contracts but they chose to go elsewhere.
"If we let other players go to keep Kikau, for example, would we have won the comp in 2015? It's hard to answer. But our decisions led to a premiership. Some individuals will always look for other opportunities."
The Cowboys remain hopeful of securing NFL aspirant Holmes next season.
The former Queensland Origin ace makes his debut for the New York Jets in a trial match tomorrow morning but if he fails to make their 53-man squad, Holmes could be back in the NRL by February next year.
The Cowboys tabled a mega five-year deal to Holmes before his American departure and are keeping room open under the salary cap.
"We are still in a position to sign someone of Val's calibre if he is to come on to the open market," Parr said.
"We'd be in a position under the salary cap to have a conversation with Val or any other player of his calibre.
"I'm not sure where he is at with his NFL dream. But certainly, depending on what he was looking for, we would be able to come up with a competitive offer for him.
"If it doesn't work out for him in America, then we would certainly still have interest in Val.
"We'd be mad not to have another conversation with him. Val could transform our backline."
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